Steve McQueen’s newest film is a powerful look at the lengths women will go to to make up for the sh!t their spouses left them with. With the writing help of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Widows starts off with a fury of quick cuts that set the tone and sends bloody ripples that are felt deep into the movie.
Viola Davis leads a dynamic cast that proves everybody can eat as long as your bring your A game. McQueen’s co-written script brings the best out of actors with household names and actresses who start off as newcomers and will send you on a Googling spree to find out their real names by the time the credits roll. Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, David Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya all deliver top notch performances while Colin Ferrell and Robert Duvall prove they still got it. Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Bernthal and Carrie Coon will leave you impressed as all hell and wondering what else they’ve been crushing it in.
In our openings scenes, we are shown exactly how much this movie will tow the line of love and violence. On one hand we have close up shots of Davis and Neeson embracing each other in bed, that will definitely have closet racists running for the exit 30 seconds in. On the other hand we have Neeson and his crew hightailing it away from a robbery gone wrong. Unfortunately, those men don’t make it back home and they’re wives are left grieving and terrorized by the men who their husbands stole from. Speaking of stolen from, David Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Hotel Artemis) and Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther , Get Out) are the Manning brothers who are on a mission to retrieve what was once theirs. Henry, who acts his ass off in anything he touches, plays Jamal Manning who has one foot in and one for out the gang bangin’ door, while Kaluuya’s Jatemme Manning is completely content with his gun bussin’, blade wielding lifestyle.
In perhaps one of the greatest scenes in the film, and certainly my favorite, Jatemme locates the two workers that allowed the Manning’s money to be robbed. They were found rapping in the back so he asks them to kick a rhyme right quick, and in the most cool headed, menacing fashion nods his head along with his hench men’s beat and flow. The camera is circling the three-man cypher as the bars fly, until Jatemme whips out the burner and unloads holy hell upon the unsuspecting lackey at point blank range. The scene is a masterpiece in gripping screen presence drawing the audience in before an explosion of power and tone shift. Daniel Kaluuya is seriously setting himself up to be one of the greatest actors of this generation.
Colin Ferrell plays a local politician looking to be selected alderman of his ward. He is probably the most divisive person in the movie, as he seems to have a genuine beef with his father’s racist ass ways and employs Molly Kunz (Colony) protraying a young woman named Siobhan as his campaign manager. On top of that, he’s got this program called MWOW (Minority Women Owned Work) that provides a opportunity for disenfranchised black women in this ward to own stores, salons and various businesses that put money in their pockets and subsequently back into the community. Thennnnnn you find out about a lot of shady business happening behind closed doors that make you question the authenticity of his initiatives and methods to promote those programs and neighborhoods. Then there’s the boat shoes twist. You find out exactly what kind of man Jack Mulligan really is and will feel all types of ways about it.
With an ensemble cast, I’m always drawn to the sequence of actions that lead up to character introductions and eventual squad formations. What’s done well in Widows is making it very clear these women have little to no prior knowledge of each other, but with their former husband’s going down in a blaze of glory, they’re forced to make the hard ass decision to accept the horrific situation they find themselves in or hop into the driver seat of their future. The decision making progresses naturally, from a luke warm “I don’t know if I can trust this chick” scenario into a ride or die sisterhood.
Behind the camera, McQueen does a lot of things right. There are some phenomenal camera shots that showcase his eye for on point cinematography. Jack Mulligan and his campaign manager leave the ghetto and travel back to campaign HQ while the camera sits on the front hood of the car. The dichotomy of Chicago is on full display as they drive from the hood to the hills.
Somehow McQueen manages to layer this scene even more with the conversation that Jack and Siobhan have in the back that really strikes you while their POC driver, John, chauffeurs them from the PR event. He asks her if she’s ever slept with a black dude and she claps back, like “You need to be worried about getting your ass kicked in the election, not measuring dick sizes. Man the fuck up!” John’s position forces him to endure this conversation but his pay grade doesn’t allow him to have input, despite it being something that would obviously make you feel some type of way as a black man supporting a white politician.
The movie doesn’t come without its flaws: the introductory arc, following the 2 million dollar botched heist opening, gets a little drawn out before the bomb drops. I distinctly remember Viola Davis’ Mrs. Rawlins walking up to the door of one of the widows and thinking I was close to being bored..and then the wild twist happens and everything you’ve seen for the last 40 minutes is thrown on it’s head and you’re left reevaluating everything! With that unexpected surprise, you’re left wondering why Mrs. Rawlins didn’t act on her hunch. Why she didn’t completely switch up her adopted heist plan. She could’ve easily rolled up to the “bad guys” with her new found info like a G and flipped the whole script, but she didn’t or we wouldn’t have the female empowerment flex that we witnessed for the rest of the film. Understandable, but not inexcusable.
*Slight Spoilers Take Shots to The Body in Nice Cars*
It wouldn’t be a Steve McQueen movie if we didn’t have jarring examples of racism scattered throughout. Unfortunately, this time we get shoehorned angles of racism that quite simply feels forced, rather than smoothly incorporated. In interviews Viola Davis makes such a big deal about Mr. and Mrs. Rawlins being two people madly in love, while putting a very clearly emphasis on her status a dark skinned black woman with natural hair happily married to a white man.
"I'm dark, I'm 53, I'm in my natural hair – I'm in bed with Liam Neeson. And he's not my slave owner. I'm not a prostitute. We simply are a couple in love. I've never seen it before." pic.twitter.com/0vtaUM8338
— Diversity School (@DiverseSchool) November 10, 2018
She makes it out as if we we’re finally getting a movie that features a very black and very white married duo that doesn’t need race as a plot device or driving force behind any decision making. But when you see the film, you’re forced to endure the internalized anger and guilt being projected by these two as a result of the death of their Black son killed by a white cop, “because” he moved too quickly to look for his registration (or whatever) in a nice car. In the end, you’re only more disappointed in the grimy results of these racial undertones. It’s as if they decided on this being the great divide between the Rawlins early in the writing process and hoped everything would fall into place from there. Things can look good on paper in the early drafts, but you have to be more nuanced in your finished product if you want to flourish in today’s controversial world of movie making.
With an outstanding cast, and excellent filmmaker at the helm, Widows is definitely worth your money at the box office. Much of the dark crime thriller features supremely talented women making money moves, and if you have a problem with that, well… this one ain’t for you! Flynn, McQueen and their team chose wisely when they selected Chicago as the location of this crime riddled, politics driven, poverty infested heist movie. If you love the planning aspects of any Ocean’s movie, and everything gangsta about Set It Off, you need to go check out Widows.
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